E-MAIL (10/6/05): I am a lawyer, and before I watched Brit Hume last night, it never occurred to me in my life that SMU was something other than a fine law school.Precisely! In our view, theyre all fine schools—its what you do with your time at them later. On Wednesday night, we cringed for St. Albans and UVa as their famous Fox alumnus played toady. Out of his mouth came his masters voice. Is that what he learned at St. Albans?
PIERRE RECITES: Lets hope that this is our final treatment of an instructive press story.
Weve long told you: Once your press corps agrees on a story, every one of them has to recite it. So sure enough! On Wednesday, the Posts Robert Pierre took his turn describing the non-violence in New Orleans post-Katrina—and the troubling way the national press pretended such crime had occurred. Its the Latest Official Approved Press Corps Script—and it was time for the Post to recite it. According to Pierre, [c]laims of widespread looting, gunfire directed at helicopters and rescuers, homicides, and rapes...frequently turned out to be overblown, if not completely untrue, officials now say. And yes, the media were at fault, the scribe said. According to Pierres first paragraph, rumors repeated uncritically in the news media helped slow the response to the disaster and tarnish the image of many of its victims. Pierre thus became the three hundredth scribe to repeat the corps New Approved Tale.
But could it be that its really Pierre whos exaggerating and repeating bogus stories? Here was the gentlemans first example of the troubling way the vile press misbehaved:
PIERRE (10/5/05): There was an unnerving amount of lawlessness, especially looting, in the streets of New Orleans after the hurricane. But many of the more salacious reports have not withstood close examination by government officials or the media.Breaking with others in his cohort, Pierre is willing to acknowledge an unnerving amount of lawlessness in New Orleans in the wake of Katrina. But he still insists that the media repeated rumors uncritically and overstated to a troubling extent—and he starts with CNNs repeated report of that alleged shot at that chopper. Louisiana officials now say that evacuations were never halted, Pierre says. He also seems to say that the shot in question wasnt fired—although youll note that his language on that point is rather murky.
CNN reported repeatedly on Sept. 1, three days after Katrina ravaged New Orleans, that evacuations at the Superdome were suspended because "someone fired a shot at a helicopter." But Louisiana National Guard officials on the ground at the time now say that no helicopters came under attack and that evacuations were never stopped because of gunfire.
But uh-oh! Is Robert Pierre repeating fake stories? Louisiana officials now say evacuations never stopped, he reports. But in fact, thats what CNN reported at the time, on that same Thursday morning! Did CNN overstate in some troubling way? When one examines the facts of this case, it seems to us that CNNs handling of this matter was much more straightforward than Pierres.
What did CNN actually say about the alleged shots at that chopper? Around 7 AM Eastern on September 1, CNNs Keith Oppenheim reported live from Houstons Astrodome. According to Oppenheim, a major evacuation official had reported some shots at a chopper:
OPPENHEIM (9/1/05): We're getting breaking information from an official who is the spokesperson for Judge Robert Eckels, the Harris County official here who's coordinating things at the Astrodome. About five minutes ago, Gloria Roemer, the spokeswoman, told me that the transports from the Superdome in Louisiana to the Astrodome here in Houston are going to be put on hold. And her description for that is because there have been shots fired at a Chinook helicopter, part of a means of transport out of the Superdome in New Orleans to get people out. There were shots fired from the crowd, and as a result of those shots, they feel that the situation is at least temporarily unsafe, and they are going to hold transport, as she said, for a couple of hours.Oppenheim was quoting Eckels, a major official who was running the Texas end of the evacuations. (Eckels is head of Harris County's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management.) But even so, Oppenehim instantly said that Eckels report had not been confirmed:
OPPENHEIM (continuing directly): I should emphasize that we're getting this from a reliable source here, but we are not there, and we are going to work to confirm that this information is accurate. But it comes from Gloria Roemer, the spokesperson for the judge in charge of things here.Oppenheim was careful to say that the report had not been confirmed. (Within moments, CNN threw to Chris Lawrence in New Orleans. He called it a possible shooting.) Was CNN wrong to air Eckels report? Its hard to say why; after all, the network wasnt uncritically repeating a rumor, it was reporting a formal statement made by a major official. An hour later, Oppenheim ran tape of Roemers statement. It's a very bad delay caused by very, very bad people and it's really, really quite unbelievable that somebody would be shooting at a rescue helicopter, she said. Again, this was an official report from the office which was running the Houston end of the evacuations. Its hard to know why CNN should have refrained from providing it.
At any rate, by 10 AM, CNN was reporting that Eckels and Roemer may have been mistaken. Oppenheim aired a report hed received from New Orleans:
OPPENHEIM (9/1/05): A bit of a controversy: We heard from Houston officials this morning that there was a clear delay in the transport of buses because of violence in New Orleans. Specifically, reports that someone had shot at a chinook helicopter involved in the transport. But Louisiana officials not only haven't confirmed that, they said that there's been a continued transport operation going on and no delay. Although I have to say in the last half hour or so, no buses have been coming in, jibing with the first report but that might have been a planned delay. So we really don't know whether the transport has stopped or not.Youd never know it from Pierres report, but CNN reported, that very same morning, the news Pierre claims to be breaking now. According to Pierre, Louisiana officials now say that...evacuations were never stopped (our emphasis). But CNN reported that fact on the morning in question, within a few hours of the initial report. Not that Pierre was willing to tell you, of course. He was too busy playing his readers for fools, pimping his new, approved story.
By the way, did someone fire a shot at that chopper? We dont have the slightest idea. Louisiana Guard officials deny it now. But they have an incentive to clean up these tales—and we cant tell you which tale is accurate (more below). Meanwhile, Pierre put his thumb on the scale in one other way. As far as we can tell, its still not clear whether evacuations were actually halted in New Orleans that morning. On Monday, Knight-Ridders Miriam Hill did the definitive report on these incidents. Heres her account of the Superdome matter:
HILL (10/3/05): Lt. Pete Schneider, a spokesman for the National Guard, which was handling Superdome evacuations, said it was a civilian who told guardsmen in the area that shots had been fired. Schneider said flights continued despite the danger.As usual, Pierre told you half the story—the half which supported his cohorts New Story. Yes, a Guard official, Pete Schneider, says flights continued without interruption. But Homeland Security still seems to say different—a point Pierre chose not to mention. And by the way: Was that civilian actually wrong—the one who first reported the gunshots? Hills piece didnt settle that either. Almost surely, theres no way to tell—and theres no apparent reason why any sane person would care.
But a spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security—which oversees the Federal Emergency Management Agency—contradicted that statement, saying Superdome flights were temporarily suspended because of gunfire.
For years, weve walked you through brainless episodes like this—episodes in which the mainstream press corps agrees on a pleasing story, then starts bending the facts to support it. But over the course of the past decade, these idiotic press corps episodes were normally devoted to taking down Democrats; indeed, the press corps two-year campaign against Gore eventually put Bush in the White House. Now, with Bushs numbers in the tank and his idiocy even starting to dawn on most journalists, youre going to see some stupid stories in which the press corps tilts things in other directions. No one committed any crime in New Orleans! Of course there was no looting that week! Those corpses in the street were just rumors! These episodes arent going to be any dumber because they tilt in new directions. Indeed, theyll continue to show you the shape of your race—the human race, dumbest on earth.
Meanwhile, if Bush continues to go in the tank, the press corps worthless reciters and followers may start inventing tales that you like. At that point, youll face a test of your character: Will you still object to their nonsense when they start pimping nonsense you like?
WHAT LAWRENCE SAW: Its hard to know why anyone should be surprised, but yes, there really was crime in New Orleans, despite the silly Disney tales scribes are typing up now. On that same September 1 morning, for example, CNNs Chris Lawrence said this:
LAWRENCE (9/1/05): When you talked about that security situation, the police officers down here in the downtown area tell me, one police officer walking along with a handgun, he wouldn't even feel safe doing that. He said, "If you're out here, especially at night by yourself, you're taking your life in your own hands."That was during the 7 AM hour. Was Lawrence wrong to uncritically repeat those police force rumors? Uh-oh! An hour later, Lawrence reported what he had seen for himself:
He said they basically have to show a force, five, six, seven officers at one time. You know, shotguns out. You know, the assault rifles out. He said that it's the only thing, that show of force, that can deter people at this point.
And you get the feeling that that sense of desperation is just getting stronger and stronger. I mean, every hour, every day, the people go without fresh water, without food, with their children, it makes people desperate. And for good reason.
A lot of these people are just simply trying to get a fresh drink of water, get some food, and take care of their family. And when those needs aren't met, people become very desperate.
And as one officer told me, "Desperate people do some very desperate things." And he told me yesterday he felt the actions were only going to increase today and tomorrow if things didn't get any better. Obviously last night they did not get better, and today we see it is getting worse—Soledad.
LAWRENCE (9/1/05): Soledad, it's the quietest it's been right now this morning in quite a long time right here on Canal Street. We're right here on the edge of the French Quarter, but it has not been like that throughout the night and over the last couple nights. The police say there is constant looting going on. We've seen it ourselves, shots fired throughout the night. There's just a tremendous amount of people walking through New Orleans armed with guns. Standing next to a police officer yesterday and someone walked by, you could tell he had a gun tucked right into his waistband. Some of the police say that they're just simply overwhelmed and don't have the manpower or the communication to, you know, totally put a stop to it. They say they needed a lot more help from, like, the National Guard, a day, two days ago.Was Lawrence wrong to report what hed seen—just a tremendous amount of people walking through New Orleans armed with guns? We cant imagine why—and his report contradicts the feel-good nonsense now being pimped by our laughable press corps. But that is what these people do—and when they do so, they show us the soul of our race. As Woody Guthrie said long ago: As through this world Ive rambled/Ive seen lots of funny men./Some rob you with a six-gun/Some with a fountain pen.
ROBINSON GETS IT RIGHT: In todays Post, Gene Robinson flirts with disaster as he describes how he felt when he first got to New Orleans:
ROBINSON (10/7/05): I got there five days after the deluge, when the story, as the whole world understood it, was one of "Mad Max" depravity and violence. Hoodlums were raping and pillaging, I just "knew"—even shooting at rescue helicopters trying to take hospital patients to safety. So it was a surprise when I rolled into the center of the city, with all my foreign-correspondent antennae bristling, and found the place as quiet as a tomb.But why should Robby have been surprised? No one said there was raping and pillaging going on everywhere; indeed, on every TV channel, correspondents had been safely broadcasting from the center of the city all week look. Anyone who watched TV saw this. Uh-oh! Robby seemed to be spinning a tad. But he ended up in glory—saying that last weeks new, revised stories are just a big pile of bull too:
ROBINSON: Last week the New Orleans story shifted to the other extreme: There weren't but a handful of murders after the flood, about what the city would expect in a normal week; there were no documented cases of rape at the Superdome or the convention center; "hoodlums" in baggy pants helped with rescues instead of hindering them; and most of the "snipers" were stranded people firing in the air to try to attract the attention of helicopters, not chase them away.We dont know about subtle and complicated; some people engaged in crime post-Katrina, and the vast majority of flood victims did not. (In our view, most of them showed superhuman forbearance as they waited for help to arrive.) But Pierres sliming of CNN was pure hooey—and this was his first example of the way the press misbehaved! Alas! So it goes, always, as Robinsons colleagues struggle to get Approved Stories right.
I'll bet the truth is more subtle and complicated than either of those extreme versions...